TVN Focus On Advertising | Tag Team Of Fox, WWE Ready To Wrestle
Fox and WWE are going to the mat on Oct. 4 with a star-studded 20th anniversary live production of SmackDown from a sold-out Staples Center in Los Angeles that will mark the wrestling show’s return to broadcast primetime.
Friday Night SmackDown, as the latest incarnation of the program is called, will begin at 8 p.m. ET, featuring Kofi Kingston defending his title against Brock Lesnar. Three other matches, including one with women tag teams, are also on the card.
For the big opening night, Fox will go live a half hour early for a “blue carpet” show that will feature WWE celebrities, including Hall of Famers Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Goldberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
SmackDown had been losing viewers on USA Network, its last TV home, averaging 2.9 million in 2017, 2.6 million in 2018, and 2.1 million through this September before moving to Fox. But Fox believes heavy promotion and added reach (30 million more homes) will generate larger audiences and become a primetime hit.
And Fox has many media agencies and advertisers believing, too.
Fox is asking and getting around $100,000 for 30-second spots in the two-hour telecast, according to buyers who asked for anonymity because they are in active negotiations with the network.
Seth Winter, EVP of Fox Sports Sales, would not confirm specific pricing, but says sales are “very healthy” and stresses that the network is “offering no discounts.”
Winter acknowledges that some advertisers are taking a “wait-and-see” attitude on how the live telecasts are handled and what kind of audience they draw, but many advertisers are paying broadcast premiums to follow SmackDown from the USA Network.
In addition, he says, Smackdown has attracted 20 new sponsors. The newcomers include clients in categories including beverages and, surprisingly, packaged goods, which tends to target female audiences.
Winter notes that broadcast primetime inventory on all nights has tightened since the upfront with scatter selling at double-digit premiums over the upfront pricing.
Fox needs to sell for more because it is paying more. Fox reportedly is paying Vince McMahon’s WWE $205 million per year, some three times as much as NBCU was paying for the rights on USA.
“I think it’s a big opportunity for the WWE,” says one media buyer. “The WWE already has a solid infrastructure and now they are upgrading to broadcast. They have a network like Fox energized to spend big dollars to promote it. It should get shot out of the cannon with its premiere. Then we’ll have to wait a few months to see how it stabilizes.”
In addition to traditional 30-second spots, Fox is also selling sponsorships and ad integrations, with insurance company Progressive, the largest advertiser in SmackDown on USA, having recently signed on as the presenting sponsor for the Fox incarnation.
Fox Entertainment Sales has been selling the spots, while Fox Sports has been selling the sponsorships and integrations. Winter believes that interest in integrations will grow when the show begins airing and hesitant advertisers see how the integrations work and how effective they can be.
Fox Sports is responsible for the Fox-WWE relationship overall. Vince McMahon, chairman and CEO of the WWE, also owns the XFL, via his company Alpha Entertainment, and Fox is working on the new XFL league telecasts to begin in February.
SmackDown’s long history began on the upstart UPN network in 1999. In 2006, it moved to The CW, the broadcast network formed by the merger of UPN and The WB and, in 2008, to slid over to Fox’s flanker broadcast network MyNetworkTV. It migrated to cable and Syfy in 2010 and then to USA in 2016.
The WWE is happy to be back in broadcasting.
“This opens us up to reaching more potential sports fans,” says John Brody, EVP, global sales and head of international for WWE.
Brody says SmackDown is a “pivot point between sports and drama” that’s on 52 weeks a year with first-run live episodes, so that offers a “unique opportunity” for advertisers. “We deliver sports and storytelling combined into a TV drama.”
Brody says the perception that WWE’s telecasts reach primarily young, male viewers is not accurate. He says while 20% of the audience is 18-34, there are “multi-generational” viewers of all ages watching each week.
“Today we have more parents and their kids watching WWE than ever before,” Brody says, adding that “a lot of people aren’t aware that WWE programming has more people under 18 watching than the NBA, MLB, NHL and NASCAR.”
“We are also the most viewed sports channel on YouTube and we believe that people watching short-form video can be converted to watching us in longform on Fox,” Brody says. “While we are not in the prediction business, we are confident that the millions more homes reached by Fox and our multi-screen promotion will translate into more viewers on Fox.”
Fox believes positioning SmackDown on Friday nights between its Thursday night primetime NFL telecasts, its Saturday night college football games and its Sunday afternoon NFL game coverage, will give the network massive promotional opportunities, especially to young males.
Fox promoted the premiere SmackDown telecast across all of its sports programming over the past week, including its first Thursday night NFL telecast on Sept. 29, which drew 13.8 million viewers and a 4.3 18-49 demo rating.
According to iSpot.tv data, advertisers spent $44.7 million on WWE SmackDown on USA through Sept. 15, with Progressive being the top ad spender. Other big spenders include Domino’s, Universal Pictures, Liberty Mutual, CarMax, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway and Popeyes.
Brody says the WWE has its own corporate ad partners — KFC, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, Mars and Nestle — but that its deals do not mandate that they advertise in all WWE telecasts. That decision is up to them, he says.
Not all media buyers are as enthused by Fox’s foray into pro wrestling.
It’s true that Fox is available in 30 million more homes than USA, but some buyers wonder if pro wrestling is maxed out. In addition to Smackdown, WWE Raw airs on Mondays and its NXT will debut on USA tonight (Oct. 2).
What’s more, WWE has a new rival, All Elite Wrestling. The two-hour All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite enters the ring tonight on cable’s TNT and, if all goes well, return every Wednesday night.
“The WWE has a very loyal audience, but it is stable and not necessarily growing,” says one skeptical buyer. “There might be a small bump based on the fact that more homes will be exposed. But we do not believe it will be significant.”